I had planned to write more positively this week after last week’s editorial litany of current problems and disasters. But low and behold my train of thought was hijacked by several events: one local, one a bit more distant, two reminders and lastly a prominent ongoing tragedy.
A few days ago a violent storm, with winds up to 195km/hr, cut a 1000 km path of destruction through an area of Canada with almost half its population, going through parts of southern Ontario and Quebec. Ten persons and numerous domestic animals died; many homes, farms, towns and cities suffered large damage, and the electrical system went down for half a million customers. Many lost dreams and livelihood. Where’s my disaster kit I ask? I really must get better prepared for what the future is surely to bring my way.
Then two days ago there was another sickening massacre of children in the USA, helping 2022 to compete with last year’s 693 mass shootings, record gun sales, six states dropping permits to carry concealed weapons and a child being shot every hour. In the words of their president “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” Precisely.
Then our upcoming election in Ontario next Thursday, which along with other election related activities, reminds me to be active and let my voice be heard. Just too much is at stake by neglect of this civic duty. Our democratic ideals and forms of government constantly need renewal and protection. Also, I was reminded, last Monday, by the first anniversary of the first discovery of unmarked graves at a former Indigenous residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, of what our society and even heroes did to our Indigenous children in the hundred plus years of these schools, where cultural genocide reigned. Just a few weeks ago my last employer, Ryerson University, was forced to change its name to Toronto Metropolitan University, upon discovering that our public education giant (Egerton Ryerson) was complicit in the residential school crimes. I was then doubly reminded that reconciliation against such “unimaginable” cruelty (in the words of our first Indigenous governor general) is truly a penance needing more progress.
And then there’s Russia’s war on Ukraine, for which we’re all hoping a quick conclusion, but still daily taking away too many innocent lives and too much national, family and personal well-being, but not spirit and hope, from the millions of peace-loving Ukrainians. Biden’s statement above is again apt.
When will there be a break in these but few examples of ongoing sadness, horror and worry? I’m hoping for a brief one this coming week so I can work on recovering my usual optimism and life balance.
In today’s Planetary Health Weekly(#21 of 2022) there are stories reflecting our world’s negative side, but also of actions and scientific discovery bringing solutions and new understanding to the problems and perhaps thereby bringing some hope. Read on about:
CLIMATE CRISIS UPDATES:
Key climate change indicators hit record highs in 2021,
Warmer oceans threaten another California forest – this one underwater,
Sub-Saharan Africa under threat from multiple humanitarian crises,
Drive for net zero fuels UK boom in retrofitting buildings for new use,
Total pushes ahead with Uganda oil project and stays silent on financial backers,
On May 19 in Denver it was almost 90F; the next day it snowed,
Northeast U.S. heat wave to persist Sunday,
Covid delays are frustrating the world’s plans to save biodiversity,
Breakthrough Covid more likely in cancer and Alzheimer’s patients,
Genetic links revealed between severe Covid-19 and other diseases: large-scale study could help inform novel Covid-19 treatment strategies,
Higher Covid-19 death rates in the southern U.S. due to behaviour differences,
CDC tracked millions of phones to see if Americans followed Covid lockdown orders,
New national data paints picture of pandemic life in Brazil, with chronic diseases posing new wave of long-term health concerns,
Air pollution linked with more severe Covid-19,
U.S. reports over 107,000 child Covid cases in a week,
Rebound after taking Paxlovid is the latest twist in the Covid-19 puzzle,
When Africans asked for Covid shots they didn’t get them; now they don’t want them,
A new call for an independent inquiry into the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,
Covid-19 pandemic ‘far from over’ says WHO chief, THEN
One in six killed by pollution worldwide,
Debunking the myths about child labour,
“This can be done”: in Honduras, farmers adapt to a changing climate
Australian scientists are jabbing koalas against chlamydia,
In 2021 U.S. drug overdose deaths hit highest level on record,
WHO calls emergency meeting as monkeypox cases top 100 in Europe AND Monkeypox goes global: why scientists are on alert,
Asian elephant cured of tuberculosis using new method,
Bill Gates’s (new book) on “How to Prevent the Next Pandemic" is a triumph of the ‘systems brain’ over feeling,
EU unveils plan for ‘largest ever ban’ on dangerous chemicals,
Ottawa’s new hospital is paving over an important site for Indigenous healing,
Quote on how climate change is growing number of ticks and their diseases,
New gas industry astroturf group ‘Fuelling Canada’ targets first-time homebuyers (with fake journalism),
Ticks are spreading in the U.S. and taking new diseases with them,
North Africa is fast becoming a danger zone for dumping toxic waste,
A history of exploitation in chocolate,
New book “Circular Design For Fashion” from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, and lastly
ENDSHOTS of Lakeside Spring.
Always lots to read. Best, david
David Zakus, Editor and Publisher
--Roadside, Hwy 60, just east of Algonquin Park, Ontario, May 20, 2022 --May Ukraine soon return to peaceful days.
A formerly sunken boat rests on a now-dry section of lakebed at the drought-stricken Lake Mead, Nevada Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Four key climate change indicators all set new record highs in 2021, the United Nations has said, warning that the global energy system was driving humanity towards catastrophe and calling for an urgent transition to renewable energy.
Greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification all set new records last year, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its State of the Global Climate in 2021 report just released. Read more at Al Jazeera
Issuing the alert, WFP said that the figure rose to 43 million when the Central African Republic was included in the food insecurity estimate.
And the problem is not limited to rural areas as 16 million people living in urban spaces are also at risk of acute food insecurity with WFP warning that some six million children are undernourished in the Sahel.
For several decades, buildings such as office blocks weren’t designed or built with longevity in mind. When parts and equipment such as lifts and windows wore out, landlords often opted for demolition over refurbishment.
But against the backdrop of the UK’s race to reach net zero by 2050, the climate crisis has forced all sectors of the economy to consider their emissions, prompting property owners and developers to look again at the impact of construction.
Denver’s weather whiplash has sent the city from summer to winter in 24 hours, with a snow blizzard hitting the region on May 20.
May 19's high temperature reached 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31C), only to see readings crash the next day, said Marc Chenard, a senior branch forecaster at the US Weather Prediction Center. At midday Friday, Denver was at 37 degrees in a rain-snow mix, with the possibility of 4 to 8 inches of snow falling overnight. Even more snow was forecast for nearby Colorado mountain towns.
More than 10 million people remained under a heat advisory last week across the Northeast as record temperatures were seen from Washington, DC, to New Hampshire.
The National Weather Service has forecast Boston could see a high temperature of 96 degrees on May 22. The daily record high for the day is 93 degrees, while the monthly record for May is 97 degrees, set back on May 26, 1880.
Researchers are increasingly concerned that the world is running two years behind schedule to finalize a new global framework on biodiversity conservation. They say the delay to the agreement, which aims to halt the alarming rate of species extinctions and protect vulnerable ecosystems, has consequences for countries’ abilities to meet ambitious targets to protect biodiversity over the next decade.
Globally, nationally and locally, the pandemic continues in many to most all countries, but with cases and especially deaths declining. But it remains far from being over. Many people in Portugal, Taiwan, Dominica, New Zealand and Australia continue to get infected. Canada still has more people in hospital with Covid-19 than at any other time during the pandemic though the spread is slowing.
Please remember that the virus is still circulating widely and to take care. Vaccination remains the best way to be safe from serious consequences, including long Covid; ensure to get all the shots you can.
Over the last week there continued again to be about 4 million new cases (though testing is sorely insufficient and many mild cases go unreported) and ~11,000 deaths (down ~15%) and about 83 million people received a Covid-19 vaccine (up ~110%).
A new analysis of data from the Veterans Affairs Million Veteran Program has uncovered genetic links between COVID-19 severity and certain medical conditions that are known risk factors for severe COVID-19. Anurag Verma of the Corporal Michael Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US, and colleagues presented these findings on April 28 in the open-access journal PLOS Genetics.
Some people with COVID-19 experience the disease more severely than others. Previous research has identified certain variants in specific human genes that are associated with a person experiencing more severe COVID-19. Some of these variants may also be associated with other medical conditions that may already be well understood; identifying these shared variants could improve understanding of COVID-19 and illuminate potential new paths for treatment.
To identify shared variants, Verma and colleagues used an unprecedented dataset of genotypic information linked to electronic health record data (EHR) for more than 650,000 U.S. veterans. The analysis revealed that certain variants associated with COVID-19 are also associated with known risk factors for COVID-19. Particularly strong links were found for variants associated with venous embolism and thrombosis, as well as type 2 diabetes and ischemic heart disease -- two known COVID-19 risk factors. Read more at Science Daily
Pollution caused one in six deaths worldwide in 2019, a new study has revealed -- more than the annual global tolls for war, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, drugs or alcohol.
The study, published last week by the Lancet Commission on pollution and health, found pollution kills 9 million people every year -- nearly three quarters of them due to harmful air. According to the study, deaths caused by air pollution and toxic chemical pollution increased by 66% over the past two decades, fuelled by uncontrolled urbanization, population growth and a dependence on fossil fuels.
"The health impacts of pollution remain enormous, and low- and middle-income countries bear the brunt of this burden," said Richard Fuller, the study's lead author. "Despite its enormous health, social and economic impacts, pollution prevention is largely overlooked in the international development agenda." Read more at CNN
An estimated 160 million children are involved with child labour. Within that, about 79 million child labourers work in dirty, dangerous and degrading jobs. Most of these children are between 5 and 11 years of age. There were many laws passed against such dangerous forms of child labour in countries like the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Australia and France. Although global governments and economies have improved their efforts in tackling child labour and its long-lasting negative effects on children, there is still much to be done.
For everyday Canadians, the first step to address this global problem right at home is to be educated on the issue - which begins with finding reliable resources. By separating facts from myths, we can take more effective action to address child labour concerns to government and corporation authorities. Read more about these myths at World Vision
Otilia Aguilar rakes and spreads drying coffee grains at a community space in Azacualpa, Intibuca, Honduras. Credit:Tomas Ayuso
"Should I stay or should I go." That was the dilemma Honduran coffee farmer Otilia Aguilar faced when in 2017 when her entire crop succumbed to coffee rust, a deadly fungus that is now spreading faster across Central America due to rising temperatures. Destitute and discouraged, Aguilar and her husband considered joining the exodus of Hondurans seeking better lives in the United States.
But they lacked visas. They had little stomach for clandestine border crossings. And just the thought of leaving their four young children with relatives in Honduras as they toiled in El Norte broke their hearts. So instead of pulling up stakes, they doubled down.
They mortgaged their land to secure a small bank loan. After attending seminars on how to cope with unpredictable weather, they diversified by planting rust-resistant strains of coffee as well as corn, beans, mangoes, citrus and plantains, and by raising and selling piglets. The reconstituted farm has withstood droughts and tropical storms and produced enough for the Aguilars to pay off their loan and put food on the table.
“It was a good decision to stay put,” said Aguilar, who lives on the outskirts of San Juan, a farm town in the pine-covered mountains of western Honduras. “We worked very hard to make this happen.”
Although unfamiliar with the term, the Aguilars are practicing climate change adaptation. This means building up the resilience of communities and reducing their risks before they can be waylaid by droughts, tropical storms and hurricanes. Read more at Americas Quarterly
When British colonists first came to Australia they brought with them, among other delights, a bouquet of venereal diseases. They introduced Aboriginals to syphilis and gonorrhoea. Not even Australia’s wildlife was spared. The Europeans shipped in sheep and cattle infected with chlamydia. Scientists suspect that it jumped between species: koalas are now riddled with the disease. In some colonies, every animal tests positive. Only a couple of wild populations are free of it.
This is more than just a matter of embarrassment in polite marsupial society. Chlamydia causes conjunctivitis, which can blind a koala. Worse is a brown bottom. That implies that the disease has led to a bad urinary infection and incontinence. Those animals are hard to save, says Michael Pyne, a vet at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital in Queensland. Often the infection spreads to the kidneys, leading to renal failure. Many survivors are left infertile. Read more at the Economist
Drug overdoses in the United States were deadlier than ever in 2021, according to provisional data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 108,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, and about two-thirds of those deaths involved fentanyl or another synthetic opioid. Overdose deaths have been on the rise for years in the US, but surged amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Annual deaths were nearly 50% higher in 2021 than in 2019, CDC data shows.
The spike in overdose deaths in the second year of the pandemic wasn't as quite as dramatic as in the first year. Overdose deaths were up about 15% between 2020 and 2021, compared with a 30% jump between 2019 and 2020.
But the change is still stark. In 2021, about 14,000 more people died of overdose deaths in than in 2020, the CDC data shows. Read more at CNN
The World Health Organization held an emergency meeting last Friday to discuss the recent outbreak of monkeypox, a viral infection more common to west and central Africa, after over 100 cases were confirmed or suspected in Europe.
In what Germany described as the largest outbreak in Europe ever, cases have been reported in at least nine countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom - as well as the United States, Canada and Australia. Read more at Reuters
The number of cases detected outside of Africa in the past week alone — which is all but certain to increase — has already surpassed the number detected outside the continent since 1970, when the virus was first identified as causing disease in humans. This rapid spread is what has scientists on high alert.
But monkeypox is no SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, says Jay Hooper, a virologist at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland. It doesn’t transmit from person to person as readily, and because it is related to the smallpox virus, there are already treatments and vaccines on hand for curbing its spread. So while scientists are concerned, because any new viral behaviour is worrying — they are not panicked.
Before corona came along, tuberculosis (TB) was the world’s deadliest infectious disease in humans. The contagious virus infects the lungs and spreads to other parts of the body – like the brain and spine – causing severe organ damage. However, this doesn’t stop at humans. TB affects multiple species such as other primates, guinea pigs, cattle, rabbits, cats and elephants.
Transmission of TB between elephants and humans is a growing issue, with both species being able to pass it between each other. The disease infects around 5% of captive elephants in North America and has been found in wild elephants in Sri Lanka, India, and most recently South Africa.
Detecting TB in elephants has been a difficult challenge as sputum (thick mucus from the lungs) collection and chest x-rays are tricky to carry out in these huge animals. Thankfully, the recent development of antibody tests has changed this and made detection more accessible. These work through an analysis of a simple blood sample, where antibodies can be detected against certain diseases giving insight into what the body has been fighting.
Researchers from Japan's Niigata University and University of Miyazaki, among others, have been working on a cure for the disease in elephants for several years now. The infection of Fuku, an Asian Elephant from Fukuyama Zoo, in Hiroshima, sparked interest in this project and resulted in him being the first elephant in Japan to be cured of the disease. Read more at Optimist Daily
Bill Gates is, as he coyly admits early in this prescription for beating pandemics, the subject of “crazy conspiracy theories”. During Covid, the most widespread accused him of dishing out vaccines laced with microscopic chips to track and control humanity. The attacks were “intense”, he notes, and left him with a problem. “I have never known whether to engage with them or not. If I ignore them, they keep spreading. But does it actually persuade anyone who buys into these ideas if I go out and say, ‘I am not interested in tracking your movements – I honestly don’t care..."
His new book confronts the Covid conspiracy theories and sets out a wish list to make the world safer – but becomes meaninglessly ambitious. Read more at Telegraph
The EU’s “restrictions roadmap” published last Monday was conceived as a first step to transforming this picture by using existing laws to outlaw toxic substances linked to cancers, hormonal disruption, reprotoxic disorders, obesity, diabetes and other illnesses. Read more at The Guardian
SPOTLIGHT ON INDIGENOUS WELLNESS
Ottawa’s New Hospital Is Paving Over An Important Site For Indigenous Healing
The City of Ottawa’s master plan for the new hospital was approved in 2021 after years of debate over a location. Credit: City of Ottawa
Standing on a tree-lined hill in a grassy corner of Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm, Stephanie (Mikki) Adams recalled how she would cherish every chance to go camping, fishing or hunting when growing up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.
“Here in the great outdoors, where we’re connected to the land, we’re connected to the environment, we have the air, we have the wind, we have the land right beneath us, right around us,” she explained on a warm, breezy April day, as her light blue jacket glinted in the sun.
“Being able to be on the grass, and smell the nature around you, to hear the birds around you — that itself is healing, and that itself can do a lot for an individual’s mental health.”
Adams now spends her time in Ottawa as the executive director of the Inuuqatigiit Centre for Inuit Children, Youth and Families. The centre offers recreational, educational and cultural services, many of which draw upon the natural environment, like encouraging young children to use twigs or moss during play time, or engaging in outdoor activities like pulling sleds or building canvas tents.
Ottawa is built on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory. The particular parcel Adams was standing on is being developed into a brand new, $2.8 billion hospital, the new Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital network. The 230,000-square-metre complex on Carling Avenue, southwest of downtown Ottawa, is expected to hold 641 beds, employ more than 5,000 people and serve a wide swath of eastern Ontario, western Quebec and part of Nunavut.
The more than 20-acre site (about twice the size of Parliament Hill) will sit on a portion of the experimental farm, a National Historic Site of Canada. Developing the hospital will mean replacing much of the greenspace in the immediate area with two high-rise towers with an atrium in the middle. One tower would be 11-storeys tall with a helipad and the other would be a seven-storey tower. An adjoining city park is set to be turned into a four-storey, above-ground garage with 2,500 parking spaces. Read more at the Narwhal
Quote Of The Week:
Alpha-gal, a transmissible red meat allergy spread by the lone star tick, may gain a foothold in Canada. Climate change is bringing the U.S.-based tick up north. Credit: Jason Ondreicka/Dreamstime
It’s not just lone star ticks. Ticks of all species have been growing in numbers and staying active for longer — some even all year round, said Ian Sandler, chief veterinary medical officer at Grey Wolf Animal Health in Toronto. “Tick-borne illnesses in general, primarily Lyme disease, are significantly on the rise,” he said. “ … The fact that we have the lone star tick now being seen (in Canada) is absolutely evidence of climate change.”
International Health Trends and Perspectives (a new journal based at Toronto Metropolitan University, formerly Ryerson University, Toronto) is dedicating a special issue to the topic of Planetary Health to highlight research, theoretical and community based contributions of scientists, scholars and activists globally. It is inviting manuscripts that are solutions and equity-focused. See the call for papers and details here: https://bit.ly/3tDixHT
November 21-23, 2022: Canadian Conference on Global Health Join us in Toronto for the 28th Canadian Conference on Global Health (CCGH). This year's hybrid event will explore the theme of: "Inclusive Global Health in Uncertain Times: Research and Practice".
FYI#1 SPOTLIGHT ON MEDIA
New Gas Industry Astroturf Group ‘Fuelling Canada’ Targets First-Time Homebuyers
In April, the Globe & Mail published an article on its website extolling the virtues of natural gas appliances in people’s houses.
The story, headlined “Why natural gas is the smart choice for your new home,” has the look and feel of actual journalism. It includes statistics about Canada’s “reliable” gas industry, a photo of a young couple cooking on their gas range and quotes from Canadian homebuilders and makers of consumer products—such as grills and fireplaces—that use gas.
It looks explicitly designed to appeal to first-time homebuyers.
But even though natural gas is a major growing source of emissions in the country (Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of the fossil fuel), the article didn’t once mention climate change, nor the potentially severe health impacts from breathing in gas fumes.
That’s because the article isn’t real journalism, but rather an advertisement paid for by an organization called Fuelling Canada that is linked to some of North America’s top gas companies. It has a small label at the top describing it as “sponsor content.” But otherwise it looks practically identical to news stories from real reporters on the Globe & Mail website.
A DISEASE THAT is so rare in the United States that it is recognized in only about 40 people each year has taken the life of a person living in Maine. The cause, Powassan virus, is transmitted by ticks, which can pass it on within 15 minutes of biting. The virus causes neurological damage; one out of every 10 people who develop severe symptoms die of brain inflammation, and about half of those who recover experience long-term problems with memory, balance and speech.
One death is always a tragedy, but one death in a country of hundreds of millions can feel like no more than a statistical blip. But to tick experts, the person in Maine—who hasn’t been identified or described—is a warning. Other than Lyme disease, tick-borne diseases are little known to the public and under-recognized by health care. That’s a problem, because research shows tick species are expanding into new areas and carrying greater amounts of pathogens as they move. And it’s especially a problem because the US has not set up a nationwide monitoring system that could identify where tick species exist, how they are traveling, and what diseases they carry.
North Africa Fast Becoming Danger Zone For Dumping Toxic Waste
Toxic waste is a billion-dollar industry for criminal networks and a life-threatening hazard for Africa’s inhabitants. Legitimate-looking waste-disposal deals are
maskingillegal activities allowing masses of dangerous waste to be dumped in North African countries. North Africa is a common destination for Europe’s rubbish. Waste is shipped from Europe to legitimate pollution-control countries in North Africa for recycling. But these countries don’t always have the technical means to recycle the waste, resulting in environmental harm and serious
healthproblems for citizens.
As the world fell in love with chocolate, the demand for cacao beans surged. In 1855, Portugal brought cacao to the West African island of São Tomé where the climate was optimal for cacao production, according to Dr. Ingrid Fromm, a researcher at the Bern University of Applied Sciences. From there, cacao production spread to the mainland, and today, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cacao.The producers of cacao in West Africa are mainly small-scale, resource-poor farmers, Dr. Fromm explains. Indeed, a 2015 report revealed that cocoa farmers generally live below the $1-per-day poverty line, according to Molly Harriss Olson, CEO of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand.
Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut Reopens After Pandemic Closure
Canada's High Arctic Research Station in the community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Credit: Polar Knowledge Canada/The Canadian Press
The Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay has
officially reopened after a pandemic-driven closure that extended for over a
year. The multi-million dollar research station had only been open for 6 months
before the facility was shuttered in the face of the pandemic. CBC reports that
the pause encouraged researchers to engage with the community of Cambridge Bay
and allowed staff to “fine-tune” the new facility’s policies, protocols, and
procedures. “The pandemic did cause some problems for us, but fortunately we
were able to maintain our data collection as we were able to make connections
with local technicians and the hunters and trappers association,” said Brent
Else, an Arctic marine and atmospheric scientist from the University of Calgary.
“We were able to fill in the gaps by being involved with the community in that
Publisher and Editor: Dr. David Zakus Production: Julia Chalmers and Aisha Saleem Social Media: Mahdia Abidi, Shalini Kainth and Ishneer Mankoo Website, Index and Advisory: Eunice Anteh, Gaël Chetaille, Evans Oppong, Jonathan Zakus, Dr. Aimée-Angélique Bouka & Elisabeth Huang Bloggers: Edward Milner, Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, Aisha Saleem and Dr. Jay Kravitz